Keepin’ it Relevant

So, a couple of months ago, I had lunch with my buddy Bill Day and as we munched away on our burritos, he asked me,” Pat- how long do you think you are going to work?” It kind of took me back a bit and as I struggled for a response, Bill told me that he intends to keep working as long as he can. He may slow down a little bit when his boys enter the business in a few years, but for the moment, he likes his business and the challenge it offers. Bill is one of those guys who wears a t-shirt, running shoes and shorts, no matter what the temperature is and looks like the picture of health for a guy in his 60s. I thought about his question and remarked that I had to think about my son in school, health care, etc. but as long as I was contributing, I have no problem working. We are in similar circumstances but I work for a large company and Bill has his own very successful small business. We both agreed that we need to be relevant and making a contribution in order to continue. fullsizerender-51

So what does it mean to be relevant? In my mind, it is raising your hand and volunteering for new projects at work. It is providing guidance to younger employees. It is problem solving using experience gained over many years of employment. It is continuing to provide value even though you are not one of the younger ones anymore, in fact, in my circumstances, I am one of the older ones in our company. But “relevant” is a mindset and both Bill and I agreed. If you can stay healthy, provide value, and want to continue, age really has nothing to do with it. It also has to do with challenging yourself. There is a great blog out there called   jen-agan.squarespace.com  where it is said that,” truth of character and purpose comes to light when we find ourselves soaring outside our comfort zone.” Sometimes, when we think about the road ahead, we must continually challenge ourselves in order to provide value and be……relevant. I have a lot of friends who have retired. They travel, they volunteer, they provide value in their own right but they also enjoy life. I want to do the same thing, but for the time being, it is associated with my work environment.

Aside from the challenges in the work place, what can help you with providing value? I have always been a proponent of strong body assists strong minds. Exercise and activities support good mental health as well as physical well being. I have a group of contemporaries that enjoy skiing and mountain biking. We all challenge each other and love the sport, atmosphere, and history of these pursuits. We look forward to getting together each week and on vacations enjoying the slopes and the trails. We hold each other accountable and the activities support our work ethic because we have the energy to continue to provide value to each other via our activities, but also provide value in the workplace. img_0723img_0203

One of the byproducts of being “relevant” is that you have the chance to test that with younger employees and also younger folks who ski and ride. I ride mountain bikes with a group on Thursday nights during the year who are in good shape and are considerably younger than me. Oftentimes, I am the oldest one by 30 years unless some of my contemporaries show up. But the interesting thing is that I learn from this group. I hear what they like in music, entertainment, politics, and listen to their workplace challenges and when they seek counsel or opinion from the old guy, I feel relevant in that I can respond to them without sounding like a parent or a boss. I am their friend and confidant even though our demographics are somewhat far apart. I can have a beer with them after the ride and we all enjoy the stories of the trail that night. At the same time, I know my place, and would not enter their world on a weekend or week vacation with their peers. I am not one of them. But in the environment of the ride, I am, and we enjoy each other’s company. fullsizerender

So, I guess the bottom line here is age should not dictate whether one is relevant or not but rather mindset and enthusiasm. I like my job and I like my hobbies. I would like to continue to pursue them and stray outside the comfort zone from time to time to test myself. We live in a rapid paced world with social media, continual advertising assaults, main stream media, challenges in the workplace, health and financial challenges, and the list goes on. But with the right attitude and the ability to learn from the younger set, baby boomers like Bill and me can still provide value, learn, and be……for lack of a better word……….relevant. Be kind in 2017 and thanks for reading.

Lake Erie Fluff

This week, the west is being pounded with “Snowmageddon”. Amazing amounts of snow in the Tahoe and Mammoth Mountain region. I can’t wait to get out there in March, but for the time being we are treated here in the east to the maddening cycle of snow and cold, rain, warmer temperatures, back to cold, ice, wind, etc. etc. etc. It takes fortitude to be a skier in the East and even if there is no snow on the ground in the city and suburbs, don’t ever underestimate the power of grooming, and snowmaking at the local resorts. img_1265

Fortunately cycles change and we are blessed periodically with a phenomena that I call Lake Erie fluff. As with the storms that come from the Pacific that bang into the Cascades, we here in the banana belt see storms that come from Canada. They roll over the warmer waters of Lake Erie which produce locally heavy snows in the Western New York areas as well as colliding with the ridges of the Laurel Highlands and produce a light powdery snow that is the fluff. Lake Erie is our “snow machine” and for those who live in the northwest corner of Pa. and Western New York, it is a reality of winter even in the cyclical winters of late. I went to school in Meadville, Pa where I wore Bean boots from September through May. But to local skiers, we look forward to these storms which can salvage the cyclical damage of the winter rain, freezing rain and warmer events. IMG_0515

My wife Janet and I take advantage of these storms each winter snowshoeing and skiing locally but also traveling north to the Lodge at Glendorn http://www.glendorn.com to celebrate her birthday and to take advantage of mid winter storms in the “icebox” of Pennsylvania. Snowshoeing on the local trails there is a very pleasant experience especially when the Lake Erie fluff falls softly during our outings. The crackling fires of the lodge are welcoming and we have been very fortunate to time these visits with snow events rather than warmer, rain events. We usually combine these visits with trips to Ellicottville, NY to ski at Holimont http://www.holimont.com or Holiday Valley, each of which lie directly in the path of the storms rolling across Lake Erie. ellicottville-20130208-00088

It is not uncommon here in Pa. to see blizzard conditions in the northwest corner of the state with nothing on the ground as you drive farther to the south. Then the snowpack increases as you drive into the Laurel Highlands where you see the results of the storms colliding with those ridges and emptying larger amounts of the fluff on the local areas in the region. A strange weather pattern to be sure but it enables us to have some outdoor winter activities despite not being in the more traditional snowbound areas of New England or the west. newaerial

I often hear people say that they don’t ski in the east or they don’t ski locally, they only ski out west. That is fine if you are satisfied with only a week or two enjoying your favorite winter sport. In my mind, take advantage of the local opportunities so that when you do go on a trip, you can be ready to go. In my mind, making turns is making turns. The more you make of them, the better you are prepared and also the more you can enjoy the winter. This particular winter has been a strange one but skiing Wildcat at Laurel Mountain has been a fun experience seeing that it is the steepest slope in Pennsylvania and the area has been reopened after a 10 year hiatus. I know that lapping those runs will get me ready for my Adirondack and western trips but it also has been truly enjoyable in its own right. Janet and I will be venturing north shortly and hoping for a nice dump of that Lake Erie fluff again on our visit. Our friends, Mike and Judy Smith, drive all the way from Philly to join us.img_0541 They usually only ski the west but were pleasantly surprised with the Holimont experience in Western New York. Also the stay in Glendorn is memorable. Get there if you can.

Coffee- The Great Motivator.

I was not always a coffee drinker. In fact, the first time I ever drank a cup of coffee was when I was on a trip with my wife in San Diego. She said, ” it would be really nice if you would sit and have a cup of coffee with me.” I always thought that coffee was for ” big people” and that it stunted your growth as my mother taught me. So, up until I was in my mid thirties, I had never had the pleasure of experiencing the warm, tasty, caffeinated slide of liquid down the old gullet. It was a revelation. images-1

Fast forward and I found myself in the land of coffee- Seattle, Washington where Starbucks and Seattle’s Best reign supreme. img_0576
I took advantage of all that coffee had to offer there but the fun part was finding the small , boutique coffee stands in places like Enumclaw, Washington on the way to ski at Crystal Mountain. You pull in and order a custom crafted cup of Java from the smiling, female baristas and make your way to the ski area with a warm, travel cup to start your day. mount_rainier_from_west

I often find myself drinking the Java on the way to work or to a work out like cycling or skiing. Aside from the purported benefits of reduction of risk of Type II diabetes, Alzheimer disease, Parkinsons, heart disease, and colorectal cancer, I find that coffee gives you a degree of sharpness in the morning. I find that if I drink a cup on the way to a cycling outing, it gives me a little jolt that is needed because as you age, it takes more time to warm up. But the coffee helps you get out of the parking lot a little easier and I notice it when I don’t drink before I ride. Same benefit with skiing. When I finish the coffee in the lodge, and strap on the boards, my first turns are more focused and the rhythm of the ski turns are assisted by that initial caffeine boost in the morning. Even going to work, it give me focus to begin my day. But aside from the caffeine benefits, what is so special about the proverbial cup of coffee that warrants discussion? images

I have found that there is a whole culture out there of coffee aficionados who revel in the relaxing atmosphere of a coffee shop. Starbucks, McDonald’s and smaller boutique shops encourage folks to relax and enjoy the coffee with soft music and the opportunity to use the internet conductivity to conduct business or just browse the internet while enjoying a fresh cup of coffee. My wife and I enjoyed this type of atmosphere at La Prima this Christmas in the strip district of Pittsburgh. A simple cafe that specializes in the coffee experience. We marveled at the artistry of the frothy creamy decoration on the surface of the cup and just enjoyed the experience instead of getting a “to go” cup and slamming the beverage down during our shopping outing. sawada-coffee-10dec2015-003

But I have to tell you that most of the time, I am slamming the coffee on the way to something. I remember coaching my son in his early soccer years and pounding a cup of coffee before the Saturday morning game. My wife always said that me drinking coffee was like pouring gasoline on a raging fire as I became an enthusiastic, motor mouthed, raging lunatic of a coach. My son cringed as I loudly encouraged them to shoot the ball, defend, and die for the team- all in a grade school soccer game. img00002-20091022-1737

So, the caffeine thing is not lost on me and the benefits of coffee to begin my day or as a performance enhancer is recognized as I slam the coffee down my throat. img_1301

Janet is always telling me that I have to relax and I try to get into the cafe, coffee shop experience, but most of the time I am slamming. Even after all these years, I am a rookie when it comes to the true taste of coffee. I like a strong cup but I really like a little coffee in my cream and sugar. My associate Steve Elliott, with whom I work, says that to really enjoy the taste of coffee, you have to drink it black. I am not there yet and although I am trying to wean myself off the cream and sugar, I have a long way to go. But in the meantime, I will enjoy the sweet, creamy, experience of a slammed cup of Java and thank my wife for introducing me to one of the small pleasures of life. As I age, I notice the smaller things and appreciate them. Hopefully the coffee will appreciate me with healthful benefits that supposedly exist. Enjoy a good cup of steaming coffee and thanks for reading.

The Return of a Classic Ski Area

I have skied a lot of areas in my time and most of them were in New England where there are the giant, corporately run areas and the smaller privately held areas. The smaller areas always held my interest because they had a sense of tradition and a feel of skiing in another time. Recently, in our neck of the woods, down here in the Banana Belt, Laurel Mountain came to life again this year. It went from being one of the lost ski areas to a vibrant, resurgence of a classic ski area reminiscent of those areas in New England. In fact, there is a tie to Mt. Cranmore in the Mt. Washington Valley of New Hampshire. Apparently, when the Mellon family first had the idea to develop a ski area in 1939 for the members of the prestigious Rolling Rock Club in Ligonier, they hired Hannes Schneider to lay out the trails. Hannes Schneider was the ski school director at Mt. Cranmore who was brought to the US from Austria by the industrialist Harry Gibson, a friend of Richard King Mellon. Schneider is widely acclaimed as the father of ski instruction in this country. newaerial

When you first pull past the stone entrance hut on the mountain road, you feel as if you are driving back in time. The parking lot is never full and as you make your way to the top of the mountain lodge which has been recently refurbished, you can relax in an Adirondack chair by a roaring fire and put your boots on. img_1263 You can then take your brown bag lunch inside or take advantage of some good comfort food in the new bar area in the base of the lodge. The picture windows look out on the whole Ligonier Valley which is not only scenic during the day, but a sight at night if you choose to night ski. The refurbished snowmaking by HKD and the new Pistenbully groomer make the Wildcat slope a delight to ski and it is known to have the steepest vertical in the state. img_1266

I remember skiing Laurel when it was run by the state and had some amazing powder days there with Frank Pipak, a friend who took the PSIA exam the same year that I did. Although, I spent the winter prior to that exam in Sugarloaf, Maine, I often credit my runs down Lower Wildcat with preparing me for the steeper terrain that was utilized in the exam. My friend Hiller Hardie always says, ” if you want to get your legs ready for the western trips, lapping Wildcat at Laurel will put you in good form.” Your legs get a work out on lower Wildcat with the steep vertical pitch. img_1265

When Seven Springs Mountain Resort decided to bring Laurel back to life this season, along with the DCNR of the State of Pennsylvania, it was time to promote it. I have told a lot of friends about my good times at Laurel and how they must try it. Like my two snowboarding friends, Tina and Mark Sauers who were totally enthralled with the area and the family feel to the place. img_1262

We have some challenges down here in the banana belt with the weather being on the edge of rain and snow. But credit Laurel with good snowmaking and grooming to make it possible for enthusiasts like me to get the most days out of rather dismal early winter conditions. I have a lot of good memories of skiing at Laurel back in the day including fun times with my son Jack and our visits to Fort Ligonier and the Pie Shop in Laughlintown at the bottom of the mountain. IMG00117-20100116-1123

Two years ago, Hiller, John McWilliams, Jeff Balicki and John O’Toole and yours truly used our snowshoes to hike into the closed area and after unloading our packs, took two runs down Lower Wildcat. Four hours plus of hiking for two runs was “having to have it” and it showed our devotion to an area which we all loved. It is so nice now to have Carl Skylling’s new Sky Trac chairlift instead of bootpacking to claim our vertical. IMG_1574photophotophoto

So if you are a local, get over to Laurel. You won’t regret it and if you are visiting, check it out. Lower Wildcat will surprise you even if you are a veteran of steep skiing from points beyond. I am so happy it is back. Hannes is probably up there smiling at all of us. Thanks for reading.

The Night Visitor

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This time of year, I kind of switch gears and get away from the mountain bike, and transition to skiing,running trails, or hauling out the snowshoes. I have always been a runner at night in the winter and it is a solitary pursuit whether running around the lake in our local park, or running trails.img_1227 I am not anti-social this time of year, but it is nice to go out at night with the headlamp and spend some time by myself. I enjoy my own company. I talk to myself. Sometimes I get answers. It gives me time to think and to enjoy the winter weather. There is nothing like a run with the softly falling snow accompanied by my Pandora Christmas selections on the I-Phone. In the old days, it was the Sony Walkman with tapes. But I move ahead with technology- kicking and screaming. img_1232

There were many nights that I had the chance to contemplate Christmas and the true meaning of the birth of Christ. I always had fond memories of nativity scenes or the “creche” because of a wonderful story that I watched as a kid- ” Amahl and the Night Visitors.” carnegie_presepio It was re-broadcasted in 1963 from its original 1951 production on the Hallmark Hall of Fame. Although the story is fictional with the shepherd boy and the Magi, the opera by Carlo Menotti was based on biblical truth. I was always fascinated with that production on TV and thought of it often when I would see a creche. Perhaps one of my favorite nativity scene locations was in the grove right near my run starting point at Stone Field in North Park. It was always nice to finish a run and walk up to the grove which was decorated by Allegheny County Parks and Recreation. The star was perched at the apex of the roof of the grove and the floor was coated with hay and the walls lined with hay bales. The Magi, the shepherds, the angels all were present with Mary, Joseph and the baby Jesus. A brilliant display especially on cold, snowy, winter nights around Christmas time.

Looking at that scene at the end of a run was comforting to me and I noticed a lot of other runners, walkers, and hikers in the park making the trek up through the field to the grove. Children were amazed and even the dogs seemed to be silent in reverence to the serene scene in our county’s largest park. It has been several years since that nativity scene or creche has been present in that grove. As we all know, there is controversy about separation of church and state and due to nationally recognized litigation, the grove is now an empty, silent, space this time of year. img_1229

Now I am not one to get political or controversial on my blog at all. I also hold any opinions to myself on Facebook posts. But I must say that I miss that creche in the park and the wonderful job that the County did on the presentation each year in that grove. I also believe there are many people who feel the same way as I do. We miss it – that’s all. We are not here to debate the first amendment but rather reminisce on the nice feeling that was present on those winter nights at the end of a solitary, contemplative run. Christmas has many meanings to different people. For me it is a celebration of my faith and the wondrous miracle that took place 2000 years ago. I never see the creche as a graven image, but rather a reminder of the humility of Christ as He came among us.

So, I continue to run, in the solitary darkness. I watched the space shuttle soar overhead last night in the presence of hundreds of stars that can be seen from the darkness of our beautiful county park. For those of you who celebrate Christmas, I wish you a blessed time with your family and friends. Enjoy the season and thanks for reading.

Creche picture courtesy of Carnegie Museum.

A Colonial Christmas

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I am a history nut and particularly the history of the Revolutionary days in this country. We here in Western Pennsylvania are fortunate in that a lot of the events that took place to shape the direction of the new nation took place right here in our region. I often daydream of what it would have been like to be an 18th century man. At this time of year, that daydream turned into a bright vision as I walked down the Duke of Gloucester street during my visits to Williamsburg, Virgina. 6c3139f39b95ad590a6b9fe3fffca04e

Wiliamsburg just might be one of the nicest places to visit during the Christmas season. Not only is it rich in history dating back to the 17th century but the reconstruction of historical sites make it seem like you are walking back in time. There were many nights when it was colder and  I walked the streets and talked to colonial dressed people standing beside an army stack of firewood burning brightly and warmly on the street corner. Their discussions of topics of revolutionary times not only made it seem real, but for visitors like me, it gave me great pleasure to see how it might have been had I lived in those days.
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Williamsburg is also famous at this time of year for their decorations on the doors of the shops and pubs and the Christmas decorations in general are exceptionally well done especially with a dusting of snow on the buildings and the streets. 605fd664dfc5584d478748da52c67ef3

One of my more vivid memories of those visits was to take in the Candlight concert series at Bruton Parish Church which was founded in 1674. When you come in from the cold and are greeted by candlelight and a choir from a visiting town, you can really get into the Christmas spirit absorbing the atmosphere and listening to the harmonies and the musical excellence of the chamber orchestras.

During warmer visits, I took my mountain bike and joined the evening rides with the shop guys from Bikes Unlimited ( 757-229-4620). You can call them for the ride schedules and can be treated to trail rides on the William and Mary campus trails as well as the Chambrel trails near by. The rides are always followed by a gathering of riders at the local Panera. These trails are twisty, turny, singletrack and although there are no measurable hills in the Tidewater region, they are challenging enough with the meandering trail construction. It is interesting to take a break on the campus of William and Mary and be facing a statue of Thomas Jefferson. Knowing that he attended here as a student and looking at his countenance was a treat to this history buff.

Sometimes history is lost on people. I had my family in Williamsburg one summer when it was 100 degrees. As I was extolling the virtues of Patrick Henry to my son as we heard his speech done by an actor, my son looked at me and said,” Hey dad- where is the pool.” Now there were no 18th century pools available but he eventually soaked his hot little bones in the hotel pool. My wife was looking for relief as well but all I could think about was ” give me liberty, or give me death.”

The Williamsburg Inn is the hallmark location to stay in the village. images-1
This is a beautiful hotel with first class amenities but the Williamsburg Lodge is another option if the budget for the Inn is not there. 806309_44_b

If I were to offer a suggestion, I would still stick by my recommendation for Williamsburg at Christmas time. If you get lucky with some snow and winter weather, you will really feel the colonial ambiance. Take it in and take a walk back in history. Thanks for reading.

Non- Revenue and Space Available

One of the funny things that they say about flight attendants is ” Marry me, fly for free.” Now that was not the carrot that drew me to my lovely wife Janet, but it sure was a great perk while it lasted. 31c039e513832a80dde8f645936e7d8e
I can remember the first flight by myself as a “non-rev” passenger. In those days we had to wear a coat and a tie and Janet told me not to ask for any food unless they had enough to serve. Living in guilt ridden hell like I did, I didn’t move for the 5 hour flight to L.A. I politely refused any service and sat in the seat quietly and read my book for the entire flight. When I got to LAX, I ran to the men’s room and breathed a huge sigh of relief. When relating the story to Janet, she said the flight attendants probably thought I was some kind of weirdo. I got better at flying “non-rev” after that.
I saw a lot of places in those days and the ski areas were the number one target. Who can pass up a free flight to ski out west or in New England? chair 23
I got pretty good at judging what flights were full and where to go. I also got quite adept at changing my clothes on I-70 East in Colorado on the way to DIA. Many times I was stripping down from ski clothes to a rumpled mess of a sportcoat, tie and pants while on the move eastward. As I ran into the airport many times barely making the flights, I prayed that the doors would close and I would not get bumped. I didn’t realize that I still had the zinc oxide on my lips and the suntan lotion slathered all over my face. The baseball hat covered up the greasy helmet hair and all was good headed home. Although my seat mates probably did not appreciate the sweat and the stench for the 4 hour flight. 03jack395.2

Jan and I had a lot of nice weekends together to the west coast when she worked a San Francisco flight or a San Diego flight. We would head out on a Friday night, get to the hotel and go out on the town. The next day we would get up early and sight see and hit every tour and restaurant we could during the day. We would have lunch at George’s on the Cove in La Jolla and see the Jags and the players in their Gucci shoes. I would ask Jan if she had a nice time? She would say “yes” and then I told it was time to get back on the bus with the bag ladies to San Diego. Reality struck hard. Then the plan was to take a quick nap because she would work the “red-eye” and we would be back in the burg early on Sunday morning. Those were whirlwind weekends.

When we would head to the beach, Jan became a weather channel junkie. If there was even a sniff of a tropical disturbance off the west coast of Africa, we were out of there. She always told the horror stories of getting bumped during hurricane season and often our trips were cut short because of a pending hurricane that was still thousands of miles out in the ocean. photo

One time coming back from Jackson Hole for a ski trip, we were stuck in Chicago. We waited two days and there were no “space available” seats. No chance whatsoever with all the cancellations and we rented the last vehicle available at O’Hare and drove through the blizzard back to Pittsburgh. We had my cousin Michael in tow with his buddy and were packed like sardines as we braved the harrowing roads headed east.

Oftentimes, I would be in the airport and would run into a flight attendant friend of Janet’s, who would laugh and say to me, ” are you flying again and your wife is working?” I sheepishly said yes but somebody had to do it! No wonder my neighbors called me the married bachelor.

Janet eventually retired from the airlines when we had our son Jack and we moved to the frequent flyer points from Southwest for a ticket. The good thing about those is that you actually have a seat and are not subject to the potential of getting bumped off the plane in some location that was a connection. We continued to travel together but in a more relaxed mode and my individual, last minute trips eventually came to an end. However, being the flexible curmudgeon that I am, frequent flyers and work trips became a new target for associated fun. But the adventures of the “non-rev” flights will always be in my memory because of the unknowns of weather, full flights, and last minute runs to the gate because I had to get that last ski run at a major resort. Traveling space available with ski bags and bike boxes was a challenge, but it was always worth it when you reached the final destination. photo

Flights today are packed and when Jan speaks to her flight attendant friends that are still working, they say flying “non-rev” is difficult because of the full flights. So, we laugh and say, we got it while the getting was good. Lots of fun times and lots of memories thanks to my wife’s hard work with USAIR. Thanks for reading and don’t bring that zeppelin bag for the overhead. Check it. My wife’s buddies will appreciate your courtesy.